My Chinese Village (Part-3)

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The Traditional Uyghur Home
As I have said, the Uyghur people abandoned the nomadic lifestyle centuries ago. We now live in permanent settlements: villages like Gonja, or towns and cities such as Kashgar, Turfan, or our capital, Urumchi. Gonja village is a typical Uyghur village. As in so many other parts of dar al-islam, here in the high plateau of western China, we make our houses out of mud and straw. We are a very creative and artistic people. The design of traditional houses is very old. It is also very Islamic. Each house is surrounded by a high wall of compacted earth. A colourful wooden door opens onto a spacious yard which contains many potted flowering plants, grape vines and fruit trees. Surrounding the village are rows of poplar trees that provide shade in summer, but more importantly, help to act as a screen against the frequent dust storms that blow off the desert.

Indoor plumbing is a luxury found only in large villages or towns. A channel of clean, clear water runs like a small stream above ground into the courtyard. It is from here that we get our water for cooking, washing and watering the garden.  

We live in a harsh environment. Both the long winter and short summer can be difficult with extreme cold and unbearable heat. Our houses, therefore, are little oases in the desert. We build and decorate our houses to provide comfort to both body and soul. In the warmer months we eat our meals outdoors on a raised veranda or porch whose roof is supported by decorated poplar beams.

Today, my mother has placed a typical Uyghur lunch on the table. Today, we are eating big bowls of laghman, a thick soup of home-made noodles, chopped potatoes, carrot, green peppers and tasty seasonings. It is believed that the Italians invented macaroni, spaghetti and other forms of pasta. In truth, it was the Italian Marco Polo who discovered pasta first in the Turkish lands he visited while travelling along the Silk Road from east Asia to the western Mediterranean sea ports, and he took the various noodle recipes back home with him to Italy.

Our bread dough is made with milk so the baked bread is deliciously chewy. Each flat loaf has a decorative stamp or hole in the centre. Watermelon, or tavuz, is  always offered to guests whenever they enter our homes. We begin all our meals, of course, with bismillah. After such a wonderful meal, it is good to remember Allah by saying al-Hamdulillah. Even in our language, Uyghurje,  we use the Arabic word rahmet to mean "thank you".

To read the next part of this story, click here.

Luqman Nagy

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